"[Sorkin] had this kind of erroneous and wonderful view that speechwriting was noble and sexy and glamorous," Attie told David Axelrod on "The Axe Files" podcast, produced by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN.
Pointing out that actor Rob Lowe ("the handsomest character on 'The West Wing'") was cast as the show's chief speechwriter for a reason, Attie continued, "It was just kind of a joke to me because, as you know, speechwriters are so kicked around and marginalized at times."
To get "The Axe Files" podcast every week, subscribe at http://itunes.com/theaxefiles.
Attie never envisioned being a screenwriter, and certainly not for "The West Wing," a show that he remembers being underwhelmed by the first time he saw an episode. "I had seen 20 minutes of it and it hadn't landed with me; it hadn't resonated with me," he said.
He did, however, know that politics could be fertile ground for dramatization. As a young aide to New York Mayor David Dinkins, Attie would sit in on high-level meetings and observe political events, and soon became struck by "the unreality" of it all.
"I have to be honest and say that I became really addicted to the absurdity of it," Attie said. "I realize now that I loved kind of observing the weirdness of a room, or thinking about the odd personalities and trying to analyze them."
Several years later, Attie found himself in the center of a swirling drama as he worked as Al Gore's chief speechwriter on his 2000 presidential campaign, which was embroiled in a recount election in Florida.
Attie remembers being inundated with messages from friends and acquaintances eager for inside information on what was happening with the recount. One email came from a Hollywood talent agent he hadn't communicated with in years. "You should sell out and become a screenwriter, the note said. "I can get you a job working on 'The West Wing.'"
His interest piqued, Attie called the talent agent and learned the email was only a joke. But then Attie thought to himself: "I've been lucky to have some interesting professional experiences. Maybe I should do this."
So he watched more episodes and grew to enjoy the show. Then, out of work after the Gore campaign ended, Attie cold-called Sorkin who actually took his call. When Attie expressed interest in becoming a television writer, Sorkin told him he'd consider him for a job.
"The short version," Attie said, "is I flew out, I met with him for a half an hour, and he changed my life."
To hear the whole conversation with Attie, which also covered how he broke into politics by working for Dinkins, his recollection of being in the room on Election Night when Gore rescinded his concession to George W. Bush, why he believes it's unfair to expect politicians to display genuine authenticity while campaigning, and much more, click on http://podcast.cnn.com
. To get "The Axe Files" podcast every week, subscribe at http://itunes.com/theaxefiles